Saturday, June 21, 2003

The case for cloning humans

What's the big deal? The moral objections are fewer than against cloning
stem cells, argues Colin Honey.
Human cloning will happen, whether the present claims made in Miami by
Brigitte Boisselier of Clonaid turn out to be true or not, and we shall
have to face the question at some time. So why not start now.
There is almost universal agreement among scientists and legislators that
it is wrong to clone humans. The reason for that condemnation is not so
clear. Probably, it was a device to make stem cell research seem more
The identity of the clone is sometimes the issue. Shouldn't every human
being be unique, be more than a copy of someone else, have a distinct
personality and character?
It is by no means clear to me why such individual uniqueness should be
demanded. Parents frequently take pleasure from the fact that their
offspring are so like them, that they display family traits and
characteristics, or that they are more like one side of the family than
the other. Consider the members of the royal family and the interest taken
in Prince Harry by a British newspaper that wants DNA tests performed. It
questions whether Prince Charles is really his father - he seems so
Identical twins are naturally occurring clones. Not only do they look the
same, they come from the same egg and sperm - they are genetically
identical. No one suggests that twins are an abomination, or that the
second twin is not an individual with the same rights.

On the contrary, the differences in personality, behaviour, competence and
interests are commented on and studied. Despite the similarities, twins
seem to develop differently and to have quite distinct personalities. This
happens even though they are genetically identical and they grow up
together - in the same time, the same place, with the same parents, and
most of the same experiences.
The preference for individuality might actually be a prejudice on our part
and not based on fact or consistent argument.
But what of the souls? Can two people share the one soul? Is it not wrong
to force two personalities on to one piece of divine substance? Again, the
fact that there are identical twins counts against there being a problem.
Twins seem to manage, and that seems to suggest that each person is able
to be ensouled regardless of their genetic make-up. That is, assuming
souls exist at all. These days theologians don't make a big thing of the
soul. But even if there are souls, it seems unlikely to count against
cloning. It's hard to imagine that God would have any difficulty telling
the difference between one clone and another, or in ensuring that each
person has a distinct soul - if that is how it works.
In fact, of course, every person is an individual as much because of their
environment, experiences and relationships as because of their genetic
make-up. Otherwise twins would be indistinguishable - and that is far from
being the case.
In the case of a clone, deliberately created, there is a further
difference that virtually guarantees individuality: they live in a
different time from their genetic twin. Anyone who is cloned is older than
their clone; their life experiences cannot be identical without recourse
to a time machine.
I mention God, and to some people it seems that God alone should have
power over life and death. It is playing God for us to interfere in this
way with the reproductive process. Such an objection may actually be the
most powerful for some people. The sin of hubris - Icarus trying to be
like God and flying too high - there has always been literature about the
need to accept human limitations. The recognition of limits and acceptance
of our destiny is an attitude we have admired and thought noble.
When it comes to playing God, stem cell research might be more of a
problem. I refer to the cloning of embryos in order to harvest cells.
God's purposes for embryos may be presumed to include that of procreation.
Whatever else embryos are intended for, one of their purposes is to make
it possible for babies to be born. Cloning involves the use of advanced
reproductive technology precisely for this purpose - to produce a baby.
However, therapeutic cloning (for stem cells) is a matter of starting the
reproductive process and then killing off the embryo so that stem cells
can be collected. In which case, can we be said to be playing God? And yet
there is widespread agreement as to the rightness of therapeutic cloning.
Finally, it is sometimes said the clone is not valued for itself: it has
been created to satisfy someone else's selfish desires. We can imagine
that parents might want to replicate a child they have lost in a motor
accident, or that a great business leader might want copies of himself or
herself to create a dynasty. There might be even more unsavoury motives -
as have been suggested in the Raelian case. But equally, there are people
who can have a baby in no other way and who would be childless otherwise.
And imagine what would happen if we tested the motives of couples wanting
to have a baby in the normal way! If the technology becomes available
there will need to be good reasons to deny people that opportunity.
Whenever a new possibility comes along we tend to oppose it. IVF was
opposed; surrogacy even more so. But we have come to accept both. In the
case of IVF, there were similar fears about the risk of harm to the child
- and we have come to live with the actual results. So it might be with
cloning. What at first seems unthinkable might turn out to be a blessing
for some or a possibility for many.
It may yet turn out to be impossible - and certainly the practical
difficulties are enormous - or too costly. Perhaps the confusion in
relationships will be unacceptable. Such issues would cause me, too, to
But let's not rule cloning out before we've looked at it. I think it
likely that the real reasons for the widespread rejection are that medical
scientists wanted to get approval for therapeutic cloning and did so by
drawing a distinction, and condemning reproductive cloning. "We're against
cloning, too," they said, "but stem cell work is something completely
different." Since reproductive cloning seemed to be so far off, and of
such limited value, it was thought to be worth the trade-off.
That's perhaps not a very good way of formulating public policy. It is
certainly not a good way of deciding ethics. On closer examination it
might turn out that reproductive cloning is preferable to therapeutic
cloning. The whole matter of cloning deserves our attention, and the
arguments need to be clarified and weighed.

Colin Honey is an applied ethicist at the Von Hugel Institute of Cambridge
University, and a minister of the Uniting Church of Australia.

Will The Blogs Kill Old Media?

Easily updated websites, or weblogs, are making big media feet run. You too, can be a pundit

By Steven Levy

A year ago, Glenn Reynolds hardly qualified as plankton on the punditry food chain. The 41 yr old law professor at the university of Tennessee would pen the occasional op-ed for the LA times, but his name was unfamiliar to even the most fanatical news junkie. All that began to change on 5th Aug last year when he acquired the software to create a weblog or blog. A blog is an easily updated website that works as an online day book, consisting of interesting items on the web, spur of the moment observations and real time reports on things that catch the bloggers attention. Reynolds idea original goal was to post witty observations on news events, but after 11 sept, he began providing links to fascinating accounts and articles of the crisis, and soon, his site called INSTAPUNDIT drew thousands of readers and kept growing. He now gets more than 70,000 page views a day. Working at his 2-year-old $400 computer, he posts dozens of items and links a day, and answers hundreds of emails. PR flacks call him to cadge coverage. And he's living a pundits dream by being frequently cited – not just by fellow bloggers, but also by media big feet. He's blogged himself into the game.

Some say the game itself has changed. INSTAPUNDIT is a pivotal site in what is known as the blogosphere, a burgeoning samizdat of self-starters who attempt to supply in the aggregate an alternate media universe. The putative advantage is that this one is not run by editors paid by corporate giants, but unbespoken outsiders – impassioned lefties and righties, fine printing wonks, indignant cranks and salt of the earth eye witnesses to the real life that the self absorbed media often miss. Hard core bloggers, with a giddy fever not heard of since the internet bubble popped, are even predicting that the blogosphere is on a trajectory to eclipse the death-star like dome of big media. One blog avatar, Dave Winer, has formally wagered that by 2007, more readers will get news from blogs than from the New York Times. Taking him up on that bet is Martin Nisenholtz, head of the times digital operations.

My guess is that Nisenholtz wins. Blogs are a terrific addition to the media universe. But they pose no threat to the established order.

Consider recent high tech history. When the web first emerged, we heard similar predictions that big media were sitting ducks for upstart competitors with cool web sites. Didn't happen. The web made it easier to publish but couldn't drive readers to your door. The majority of new surfers visit the top few sites only.

Granted, weblogs are so easy to use that even a journalist can run a site, 40,000 bloggers are up and running. But once you've created your blog and filled it with political news and snarky criticisms and witty political rants, how do you get visitor? Judging from top blogs, the answer seems to be working hard, filling a niche, winning a reputation for accuracy, developing sources and writing felicitously. This sounds a lot like the formula to succeed as a journalist inside the big media leviathan. With the difference that traditional journalists uh, get paid.

What makes blogs attractive – their immediacy, their personality and these days, their hippness – just about ensures that old media, instead of being toppled by them, will successfully co-opt them. You might argue that it's already happened. Some of the most popular blogs are those created not by disaffected outlaws, but by slumming professionals who apparently think that writing for big time journals and bloviating on 24 hour cable is insufficient exposure for their views. So you have the likes of New York Times magazine distributor Andy Sullivan blogging on the church, sexuality and his recent adoption of a beagle. Sometimes a journalists blog isn't independent, but part of his or her employers website – called a job blog. I love tech writer Dan Gillmors site, but would his boss Knight Ridder, host it if the company really believed that blogs were the stilettos in the ribs of old media

Already were seeing some of the more popular practitioners sell out entirely to the big guys. Last week pioneer journo-blogger Mickey Kaus rocked the blogosphere by announcing that Microsoft owned slate had snapped up his one man shop Kausfiles Lock, stock and software.

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